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Could the NAR Code of Ethics possibly harm the LGBT community?

At the annual National Association of Realtors convention at the end of 2010, the NAR members voted in an amendment to Article 10 of the Code of Ethics to include sexual orientation as a protected class alongside race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status and handicap. We applauded NAR for implementing the change prior to HUD changing the law.

Since the change in Article 10, we’ve had a number of conversations offline with individuals involved in the passage of the change and consumers impacted by the change.

We learned from Professional Standards Committee member Sheila Bell that the concept of protecting this class was introduced by the Minneapolis Association of Realtors at the Equal Opportunity/Cultural Diversity Committee at the May Mid-Year meetings. Bell said, “From that committee, it was referred to the Professional Standards Committee; the committee that oversees the Code of Ethics. In both committees, the vote was unanimous! As a Realtor of nearly 25 years, this is the proudest I’ve ever been to belong to the National Association of Realtors.”

When asked about the downside, Bell insisted that there is no downside. “This is a momentous move forward for the Realtor family. We have set the pace for the Country rather than following and it ensures that attention will be paid to those folks who may have suffered.”

When asked about the 7% of members that voted against the change in the CoE, Bill Lublin, member of various NAR committees since 1999 noted, “I can’t tell you what the reasoning might have been for voting against this since I was an advocate for the change. It may be because this is the first time that the Code of Ethics has led the law rather than followed existing laws.”

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So where’s the part about how the LGBT community can suffer?

First of all, you should know that we (Benn Rosales, AG founder and I) live in Austin which is extremely LGBT friendly and we’ve personally advocated for the community locally, so we are glad that NAR members voted sexual orientation as a protected class, it should have been protected all along, but it’s better late than never.

But we’ve been talking to a lot of our friends locally and I wonder if the Article 10 update changes how LGBT-niched agents market or interact? When someone gets in your car and says, “don’t take me to a black neighborhood,” that’s the nice way of saying “I want to live in a white neighborhood.” You’re taught in real estate school that not only for E&O reasons but ethical reasons, you should sever your relationship with that individual as they are asking you to violate the CoE and discriminate. So what now when someone gets in your car and says “don’t put me in a queer neighborhood?” If it wasn’t already your inclination to kick them to the curb, now the CoE says your participation in doing so would be discriminatory. Fantastic, that’s how it should be. But what about when someone gets in your car and says “I grew up in a really anti-gay community where I was bullied and physically assaulted, please help me find somewhere that I will be safe that is gay friendly.” What then? Your inclination is that they’re a protected class, you must protect, but when a class is protected under HUD Fair Housing Laws or the NAR CoE, you cannot discriminate. So now must you sever ties with them the same as when someone says “don’t put me in a white neighborhood?”

Should agents that cater to the LGBT community remove any LGBT reference from their marketing for implication that they will not serve straight clients (also a protected class now)? Should Realtors who have websites devoted to LGBT friendly communities have to take those sites down because the implication is that they will not serve non-LGBT clients?

We wonder what the full scope of Article 10 means for the real estate community? On one hand we most sincerely applaud the passage of the amendment, we are unclear as to how marketing to the LGBT community or getting those intimate questions in the car are changed. Tell us in comments what you think the shift looks like and if there is a shift at all?

Courtesy of NAR, here are the Article 10 notes from May if you’re interested:

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Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Gina Kay Landis

    January 10, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    As with any protected class (or any client), we locally are taught to have the client let us know where they want to live. We tell people we can’t place them anywhere they don’t want to be, and we are the “source for the resource” – if they want demographic data, there are a number of sites to which they can be referred. The fact that LGBT data is not gathered may or may not change. I often tell people the entire area is diverse so they need to do research on the community and let me know where they want to live. I know this is a departure from the way real estate used to be practiced, but for good reason. Part of the reason we focus on amenities of communities, in fact, instead of “who” lives there. I am very aware of films made about communities and the people the films have in them – are they all of one color? one nationality? That’s a dangerous film to show on a real estate site because that film could initiate testing by Fair Housing (Dayton is frequently chosen for testing because of our unfortunate and nationwide reputation for being a very segregated community along several lines). Sigh. So! I am glad LGBT is now a protected class via NAR, and won’t change my way of dealing with people since I tell them they have to tell ME where they want to live. I tell them I don’t discuss race or crime rates and refer them to the police department for crime questions and to sites that carry demographic data if they mention race. If it’s overt and people don’t like specific people, and really push the issue, then I know we aren’t going to end up working together anyway. They won’t like my usual neutral response and will attempt to find someone who thinks similarly. Ok then! #kthxbai.
    Gina Kay
    @ginakayRE

  2. soldonshawnee

    January 11, 2011 at 8:24 am

    Wait, did you say straight clients are in a protected class now? I don’t think that’s a consequence of protecting LGBT consumers. Realtors specializing in a LGBT clientele will continue to thrive in the same ways we do in the Hispanic market or the seniors market, for example.

    • Benn Rosales

      January 11, 2011 at 9:09 pm

      Hi, what part of “equal” is unclear? Protection for sexual orientation means all, and equal.

      I am not sure that I personally agree that refusing a client based on the color of the skin ie. non-Hispanic isn’t a violation. I would sue you.

  3. Fred Romano

    January 11, 2011 at 8:26 am

    Being a part of the gay community, I don’t think there will be any impact, either negative or any positive. Either way, if agents don’t like gays, they will find a way to not work with them. Let’s be realistic here…

    People’s perception and prejudices will not go away with the stroke of a pen by some Realtor association. It’s members are still independent business people that will do what they want (within the law of course).

    As far as steering gays, I think many gays “know” what communities are gay friendly or not. And if they are new to the area, all they need to do is some research online. I love working with gay clients, but hey, I will make money from any breathing buyer 🙂

  4. Sheila Bell

    January 28, 2011 at 11:12 am

    I was feeling guilty about my delayed response to this article until my timing actually turned out to be a good thing! On January 24, HUD proposed a new rule to ensure equal access to housing regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity!
    This is SO exciting and, since I don’t believe in coincidences, I choose to believe that it has something to do with the actions of NAR’s recent inclusion of sexual orientation into Articles 10 and 12 in its Code of Ethics as protected for Realtors. Will this ultimately lead to a change in the law-who knows. But isn’t it great that HUD is publicly positing that there *is* unfair treatment of this group of consumers and that they deserve the same protection afforded to the current seven federally protected classes! Hopefully this action will create the awareness necessary and help minimize the actions that go along with discrimination on any level!
    I, for one, sincerely hope so!!

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